Cover: Illustrating the Promise of Community Schools

Illustrating the Promise of Community Schools

An Assessment of the Impact of the New York City Community Schools Initiative

Published Jan 28, 2020

by William R. Johnston, John Engberg, Isaac M. Opper, Lisa Sontag-Padilla, Lea Xenakis

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Research Questions

  1. What is the impact of the NYC-CS on outcomes related to attendance, educational attainment, academic achievement, student behavior, and school climate and culture?
  2. To what extent are the overall impacts of NYC-CS being observed among key subgroups of students within schools?
  3. To what extent are there differences in program impact related to school characteristics such as programmatic implementation, grade configuration, principal experience, and the residential dispersion of students?

With the launch of the New York City Community Schools Initiative (NYC-CS) in 2014, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) has increased its focus on the implementation of a holistic strategy of education reform to address the social consequences of poverty as a means to improving student outcomes. NYC-CS is a strategy to organize resources in schools and share leadership among stakeholders so that academics, health and wellness, youth development, and family engagement are integrated into the fabric of each school. New York City is implementing this strategy at a scale unmatched nationally.

In this study, the authors assessed the impact of the NYC-CS through the 2017–2018 school year. The authors assessed the effects along seven outcome domains and explored the extent to which there is heterogeneity in programmatic impact based on student- and school-level characteristics. The authors leveraged innovative quasi-experimental methodology to determine whether students in the community schools are performing better than they would be had their schools not been designated as Community Schools.

The findings of this report will contribute to the emerging evidence base on the efficacy of the community school strategy and will be useful for other school district– and state-level policymakers interested in developing or refining similar interventions that support students' and communities' academic, social, and emotional well-being.

Key Findings

NYC-CS had positive effects for students across various outcome measures with some notable exceptions

  • NYC-CS had a positive impact on student attendance for students in all grades and across all three years of the study.
  • NYC-CS had a positive impact on on-time grade progression in all three years of the study, and on high school students' graduation rates in two of the three years.
  • NYC-CS led to a reduction in disciplinary incidents for elementary and middle school students but not for high school students. The reduction for high school students was smaller and not statistically significant.
  • NYC-CS had a positive impact on math achievement in the third and final year, but the impact estimates on reading achievement in all three years and on math achievement in the first two years were smaller and not statistically significant.
  • NYC-CS had a positive impact on credit accumulation for high school students across all three years of the study.
  • Teachers' reports of shared responsibility for student success increased at elementary and middle schools in the second and third years of the study.
  • The authors found a positive effect on students' sense of connectedness to adults and peers for elementary and middle school students but only for the second year of the study period.
  • The authors found no statistically significant impact on families' reports of engagement opportunities in elementary and middle schools.


  • State and local education agencies should consider working with a growing field of organizations that provide critical technical support and guidance for Community School implementation.
  • Authors see the need for an explicit inquiry into the district-level strategies and processes that shape the program as a whole and are likely to affect the implementation experiences of schools.
  • Scholars should conduct focused investigations into particular community school components, such as family engagement, extended day activities, or mental health service provisions.
  • There are numerous ways in which this evaluation was limited in its scope, which could represent opportunities for further research on community school programs nationwide, and NYC-CS in particular.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the New York City Mayor's Office for Economic Opportunity (NYC Opportunity) and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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